Charcot's Theater of Hysteria: Women on the "Border (s)" of a Nervous Breakdown

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The modern medical history of hysteria begins with Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) and his clinic-theatre in the Paris hospital La Salpêtrière. In this paper, I intend to explore the idea that Charcot transformed the Salpêtrière not just into ”a living pathological museum,” as he himself called it, but also into a ”theater of hysteria.” The career of Charcot is of monumental importance in the theatricalization of hysteria and the Salpêtrière clinic was organized primarily around the visual, photographic, theatrical, and spectacular. Moreover, Charcot's theater of hysteria was a ”theater of borders,” one that crossed borders while also remaining ”on” the ”border (s)” of a nervous breakdown, and specifically women's nervous breakdown. My purpose in this project is to explore the borders that Charcot's theater of hysteria borders on and crosses over. First I propose discussing Charcot's theater of hysteria in terms of its histrionics and theatricality. Then I explore the borders of representation, of sexuality, and of the Charcotian neurological theater of hysteria and the Freudian psychoanalytic interpretation of hysteria. These borders intertwine, and together constitute the theatricality of hysteria and institute the ”hysterical” paradigm shift that became evident during the fin-de-siècle period. At the crossroads of these borders, hysteria has achieved a unique reputation among psychosomatic disorders as a mysterious, elusive, and borderline neurosis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • hysteria
  • Charcot
  • neurology
  • Freud
  • psychoanalysis


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